This ballet's plot is inspired by The Corsair, a famous verse written in 1814 by Lord Byron, who towered over an entire generation of English Romantic poets. The thrilling story, full of adventure, also leaves plenty of room for love, betrayal, life-threatening danger, a shipwreck, and ultimately, escape. Byron's work was so successful that ballet masters were staging it as early as the 1820s, soon after it appeared. The 1856 Paris production caused a sensation with the stagecraft used in it to depict the shipwreck. Anna-Marie Holmes choreographed her own version for the Boston Ballet in 1997.
Score: editions Anna-Marie Holmes. Music edited, arranged, re-orchestrated by Kevin Galiè.
A pirate ship sails the high seas in the direction of Turkey. Captained by Conrad, it also bears his slave and friend, Birbanto.
Act 1 - The bazaar
In the bustle of a noisy marketplace, Lankendem is busy selling his slave girls. Conrad suddenly spies Medora on a balcony and immediately falls in love with her.
A fanfare announces the arrival of the governor, Seyd Pasha. Lankendem shows him three young women he want to sell to him. Unimpressed, the pasha rejects all three. Lankendem then presents him with the mysterious Gulnare. The pasha purchases the woman immediately. Lankendem also displays Medora, who enchants everyone with her beauty. The pasha is unable to resist such a temptation and buys her too. Conrad commands Ali to abduct Medora. The pirates then raid the village, taking both her and Lankendem with them to their secret hideaway, the pirate cave.
Act 2 - The pirate cave
Together at last, Conrad shows his hideout to Medora. Birbanto calls the pirates to bring out all the stolen treasures, the slave girls and Lankendem. Medora, Conrad and Ali dance to entertain everyone, and Medora pleads – invoking their love – for the slave girls to be released. Conrad agrees, but Birbanto protests and attempts to incite the pirates to mutiny against Conrad. The captain's prestige and power, however, are enough to dissuade the pirates from joining the plot.
Birbanto then devises another devious plan: he sprays a rose with a sleeping potion and compels Lankendem to give it to Medora. The unsuspecting girl then offers it to Conrad, who inhales the flower's scent and falls into a drugged sleep. The pirates return to the cave and attempt to kidnap Medora. In the fight, the girl seizes a dagger and slashes Birbanto's arm with it.
In all the confusion, Lankendem seizes Medora back and escapes with her. Birbanto is about to kill Conrad, but Ali disrupts his plan. Still dazed when he awakens, Conrad is heartbroken to discover that Medora has vanished. Birbanto pretends to know nothing, and swears loyalty to Conrad.
First scene - The pasha's palace
Gulnare is entertaining the pasha when Lankendem enters the palace together with the veiled Medora. The pasha is delighted that Medora has been returned to him and declares that she will be his most favoured wife.
Second scene - The garden
Captivated by the beauty of his wives, the pasha dreams of his harem in his glorious garden.
Third scene - The pasha's palace
The pasha is awakened by the arrival of Conrad, Birbanto and the pirates, all dressed as pilgrims. The pasha invites them into the palace. Medora recognises Conrad underneath his disguise. Suddenly, the pilgrims cast off their robes to reveal their true identities. As mayhem breaks out in the palace, Conrad and his men chase off the pasha, along with his guards and wives. Everyone does a victory dance. Suddenly, Birbanto pursues Gulnare onto the scene, bringing him face to face with Conrad and Medora, who reveals Birbanto's treachery. Conrad shoots Birbanto dead. Then, together with Medora and Gulnare, he flees to the ship and the open sea.
Fourth scene - The gale
The pirate ship glides across the calm sea. Conrad mans the wheel while holding his beloved Medora in his arms. Suddenly, lightning lights up the darkened sky, signalling a wild gale. The winds rip off the sail and forking lightning splinters the ship's mast. The ship starts to sink in the mercilessly wild and tempestuous water.
As the wind dies down and the sea slowly calms, a bright moon rises in the sky. The moonlight illuminates Conrad and Medora, who have escaped the shipwreck by clinging to a rock. The two lovers give thanks for their miraculous deliverance, which has proved the power of their love.